Fresno, Calif., is the latest city to engage in a tug-of-war over cardiology services.
Not-for-profit Community Medical Centers, which operates three hospitals in and around Fresno, will begin construction on an $80 million, 60-bed for-profit heart hospital later this year. Saint Agnes Medical Center, a 326-bed not-for-profit that is Community's biggest competitor in town, also will start work soon on a $120 million, 142-bed wing, much of it devoted to cardiology services. Both facilities are scheduled to open in 2003.
The building boom by Fresno's two largest providers has been sparked by competition for the city's approximately 30 cardiologists. Community's project, called Fresno Heart Hospital, is a venture between Community and 48 area physicians. Fresno Heart will hire away 10 cardiologists practicing at Saint Agnes, officials say. Saint Agnes is in the midst of recruiting additional cardiologists to fill its new heart wing.
"We anticipate a blip when the hospital opens, but that will be offset by our recruitment efforts and the continued growth in the community," said Saint Agnes Executive Vice President Michael Gallagher.
Fresno's battle over cardiology services is reminiscent of recent projects in such cities as Albuquerque; Dayton, Ohio; and Phoenix. Construction of facilities dedicated to cardiac services often have embittered local providers in those cities, who claim excess beds and thin margins make such ventures unnecessary.
But officials for both Community and Saint Agnes say Fresno's booming growth, not hospital rivalries, account for the need to build the facilities. Community's two hospitals in Fresno, 375-bed Community Medical Center-Fresno and 334-bed University Medical Center, have divergent finances. Community Medical Center posted net income of $9.9 million on revenue of $160.9 million for 1998, the most recent year available, according to Solucient, an Evanston, Ill.-based healthcare information company. University, which provides the bulk of Fresno's indigent care, lost $5.5 million on revenue of $146.9 million in 1997.
"The city is actually at saturation for beds, and there's a need for more," said Scott Thygerson, Saint Agnes' director of strategic planning. He added that Community's construction of a downtown general acute- care hospital that will merge two facilities with 709 beds into a single 525-bed facility will exacerbate the shortage of beds.
Tony Carr, a Community vice president who is Fresno Heart's chief executive officer, said as many as 20% of the city's cardiac patients have been going to San Francisco for treatment.
"Our intent is not to take away business from another hospital," Carr said. "Our intent is to align ourselves with the needs of the community."